It was a hot afternoon, so I took a passel of boys to the Quail Ridge pool. Last summer the pool experience was much improved by the pulled pork of Andy’s Summer Shack. Now we know that the Summer Shack was just the vanguard, paving the way for Common Fire, which opened on June 2.
I asked Andy Lynch why he chose the name. “As a species, we gather around a fire,” he said. “We built this restaurant for people who live here, to gather around the fire we hold in common.” And indeed, the centerpiece of the kitchen, which is open to the dining area is a spectacular wood-fired oven, spotlit and glittering with mica from the Pueblo.
The words “pizza oven” might spring to mind—force them back. Commanding the corresponding center of Common Fire’s menu are not pizzas, but flatbreads. “What’s the difference?” I asked Lynch. The answer: all pizzas are flatbreads, but not all flatbreads are pizzas. “Many cultures have some version of a flatbread,” Lynch said. “When you say the word ‘pizza,’ people have all kinds of expectations.” Flatbreads mean freedom.
On this, my second visit, there were three flatbreads on the menu: one with caramelized onions and roasted garlic ($9), one with eggplant and marinara sauce (the most pizza-like), and one with summer squash and goat cheese ($14). The base was more bread-like, more Chicago style, but without the goopiness of most pizza.These flatbreads were light and clean-tasting, with good olive oil and simple, fresh, distinct toppings. Each flatbread provided six generous pieces.
Thirteen-year-old boys are a tough crowd, especially when there’s no burger on the menu. But they knew I’d recruited them for a purpose: to serve you, dear reader, by voyaging into all corners of the menu. And they took to it with gusto, even to the extreme of ordering oysters Rockefeller ($12)—the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a kid order oysters (props to you, Kian Morgan). There would have been one for each of us, if he’d wanted to give five away, but he didn’t.
The less adventurous boys settled on the roast beef sandwich ($11) and the chicken dinner ($19), shared between three of them. Being roasted in that flaming oven gave the chicken a smoky edge, and four boys who say they don’t like mashed potatoes (weird, I know) all loved these chunky ones. Still, it was overshadowed by the roast beef: melt-in-the-mouth tender, served with Gruyère on a brioche and slathered with a generous amount of horseradish cream (if anything, too generous, unless you’re not a condiment fanatic). No fries—always a relief to me—just a couple of cornichons. The boys have already made plans to go back, so they can order a whole one each.I had Bo’ssam, or Korean “tacos” ($9): three triangles of cabbage leaves, heaped with pulled pork, a little rice, kimchi puree, and ssam sauce (don’t ask me): salty, sweet, green, meaty, totally delicious. And for the table we ordered the salumi picnic ($16), which featured three cured meats arranged in rows on a tin tray: prosciutto americano (did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t), a salametto, and an air-dried lomo. Accompanied by a freshly baked baby baguette and wonderful leaven bread when the baguette ran out, with a big dollop of topclass grainy mustard and excellent olive oil. And toasted hazelnuts, and a whole head of roasted garlic!
One of the things I really appreciated about Common Fire is the range of prices. There’s no differentiation between starters and entrees: all dishes are equal in stature, and they come when they’re ready. This makes it an excellent choice for families or groups of varying appetites. Only the desserts get their own section. There were four that night, so we ordered them all.
1. Lemon tart ($6). Sharp yet smooth. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. 2. Sour cherry galette with whipped cream ($7). I admire a chef with the courage to let sour cherries be sour and not sweeten them up. 3. Pot au crème ($7). Chocolate, infused with Earl Grey tea that was almost more a scent than a taste. 4. Budino ($7). Butterscotch custard with salted caramel. One of those dishes that renders you speechless, it’s so good. Then you can’t stop talking about it for days. Especially if you’re 13 years old.
The menu, and the wine list, are changeable, like a Taos summer sky. (You won’t recognize many of the wines, because Lynch is constantly on the prowl for good deals, aiming always to have a white, a red, and a rosé for $6 or $7 a glass.) Pam Mussett, who is known as the Minister of Culture—because she’s in charge of fermented and pickled things—heads off weekly to the farmers market with a license to buy. That first time, her haul had yielded a summer salad of fava beans, English peas, sugar snap peas, green grapes, and a puree of baby turnips. I was crushed to discover, on my second visit, that it had disappeared— being, as I said in an earlier column, the kind of person who tends to order the same thing every time. This is a habit that Common Fire will force me to abandon.
It’s a question of trust. Something good on your plate; something good in your glass, and your bank account won’t be gasping. If it’s hot, or you have a dog with you, eat outside, even in your wet bathing suit. If it’s the middle of the afternoon, you’ll still be welcomed as long as it’s Thursday through Sunday (open noon to 9 p.m.— brilliant move). If you’re a group, share lots of things. And if you’re alone, sit at the high bar and gaze sidelong into that common fire.
100 Highway 150, El Prado